Aliens

Oblivion Movie Poster

The other day I found myself watching a soccer game. The players were not very good: defenders were constantly out of position, midfielders of the same team were bunching together and stealing the ball from each other, few passes were completed, and those that were often gave the impression of being accidental. Once, the goalie was even caught standing inside the goal when one team took a shot. Fortunately for them, the shot went well wide of the mark, despite the fact that it was taken a mere ten feet from the mouth of the goal.

Notwithstanding the poor level of play, I was enraptured. I cheered, I groaned, I shouted encouragement. I never missed a second of the action. What is more, I had just as eagerly watched the 30-minute practice that had preceded the game. The reason for my enthusiasm was that one of the players was my four-year-old son. There is a lesson there for storytellers of all stripes.

Oblivion is the second opus of director Joseph Kosinski, who also gave us Tron. It is a perfectly average movie on net, with some attributes rising a little above and others sinking a bit below. Of all the changes one might suggest to improve the film, the single most important one would be to populate it with characters we care about. The same thing that turned an hour and fifteen minutes of abject boredom into an engaging experience on a small soccer field in central Ohio would have dramatically improved every single scene of Kosinski’s work.

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Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman began a series with the book Marsbound. Like his other books that I have read, it starts quickly, wastes little time with descriptions, treats people mechanistically, with little emotion or soul, but tells an interesting tale. Marsbound is less entertaining than The Forever War and Forever Peace, but it is still a decent read.

The story begins on Earth, where a university student named Carmen Dula and her family are waiting for a taxi. They are on their way to Earth’s space elevator, which over the course of several days will take them up to a spaceship, which in turn will take them to Mars where they will be staying for the next five years. That is, unless something unexpected pops up.

Carmen gets on the wrong side of the bureaucratic leader of the Mars colony before she even arrives. One night, stinging from a punishment meted out to her and feeling rebellious, she goes for an unapproved walk in her Mars suit. While out, she injures herself and cannot get back. On the verge of death, she is visited by a strange creature who saves her…

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Avengers

Avengers

After a series of movies about individual superheroes, movies that gave us their origin stories, we have finally been treated to the culmination of the last few years and so many millions of man-hours: The Avengers. The films leading up to it were generally fair to middling, I thought, with the first Iron Man rising maybe half a skosh above that level. The latest comes heralded by uniformly positive reviews. It is, we are told, much better than one would expect. According to most reviews, there is a greater focus on character than one usually gets in an action movie, but there is no skimping on set pieces. The reality, for me, was more of the same: half a skosh above decent.

Loki, Thor’s brother and fellow god, wants to rule the Earth. He makes a deal with some aliens who agree to conquer the Earth for him in exchange for the Tessaract, an artifact of immense power, which will also play a role in transporting the invading army to New York to begin the takeover. Loki steals the Tessaract from Nick Fury, who then assembles the Avengers to find him, find it, find out what the plan is, and do anything else that needs a little superpower elbow grease. A lot of bickering between incompatible personalities and a whole lot of violence and destruction ensue.

The plot is unremarkable but perfectly adequate, and that is a good description for the movie as a whole. There are no scenes whose impact lingers in your memory after the credits have rolled, no wonderful development of character, no stunning visuals, no lines of great insight, no “aha!” moments. What it does have, to go with its serviceable story, is competent direction, a few genuinely amusing visual jokes, a bevy of one-liners that play well to an opening-weekend audience, and the action set pieces that many movie goers — mostly male — crave sometimes to the exclusion of all else.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Aliens Thumbnail

This time, it’s war.

Aliens Movie Poster

It is possible, however unlikely, that I could shuffle a deck of cards, lay them face down on a table and, in dealing to you the top five, deliver a royal flush. If I dealt to 649,740 people, the odds are good that at least one of them would get poker’s strongest hand, but to the one who actually got it, it would seem almost miraculous, more than he deserved. The cinematic equivalent of a royal flush is what the Alien trilogy received as first a young Ridley Scott, then a young James Cameron, and finally a young David Fincher were chosen to direct its films (some are occasionally moved to insist that there were four Alien movies. I must ask the good reader to accept my assurance that there was no fourth film; any lingering memories of such a thing are probably due to a bad dream).

By all rights, Aliens should have been unremarkable. Following a classic with a classic is next to impossible. Francis Ford Coppola did it, but he followed his own work and brought his same style and vision back to the tale. Aliens would be directed by a Canadian — a near-American! — who was going off a British film that had revolutionized a genre. Although the first installment left unanswered questions, it was not fashioned in such a way that a sequel naturally sprang from its story. For more on what such a situation is likely to produce, the reader may watch the sequels to Psycho and Jaws. If he wishes to explore the top end of the Bell Curve of this particular demographic, he should check out 2010 (The Empire Strikes Back might conceivably be added, but Lucas was still intimately involved with that project and, at any rate, in this reviewer’s humble yet obdurate opinion, Episode V is decidedly inferior to Episode IV).

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